Try as you might, it’s often hard not to walk into a restaurant with preconceived notions. In the case of Thalia Spice—a blink-and-you’d-miss-it eatery along a lonely stretch of Chicago Avenue—the vague name association with the space’s former ill-fated restaurant, Spice International, was enough to deter us from running there at breakneck speed. But we’re glad to report that not only is Thalia unaffiliated with its disastrous predecessor, but it’s a spiffed-up, somewhat swank little spot worth a closer look.
The juxtaposition of Anglo-ized Thai noodle dishes with a few curries and makis might induce a snoozefest, but seek out the small plates (“Tastes from the sea” and “Tastes from the land”) and you’ll find where Thalia’s creativity lies. Of the “sea,” coconut shrimp, fried calamari and chile-spiked crab cakes stand out for their freshness and crispy texture. Fans of tom kha should try the mussels, which are steamed in a broth of coconut milk, galangal, basil and lime leaves—essentially the classic Thai soup.
From the “land” menu, chicken curry with Malaysian-style roti is simple but satisfying, and the “Thalia land sampler” is an interesting mix of flavors, with juicy Vietnamese leaf-wrapped beef sausages and a creamy dip of ground chicken, peanuts and coconut milk. The chicken satay is skippable, so to get your bird quotient for the day, choose the slightly spicy Thai-style wings instead. At $6 a plate, their value—like that of most of Thalia’s menu—is tough to beat.